So, last week, Don Imus runs his mouth a bit too far, and now he’s out of a job. Everyone, everywhere, has reported on this. The Curious Mechanism has avoided it, figuring that Imus would serve his suspension, get back on the radio, and both his listeners and corporate sponsors would continue to make his brand of trash possible. That doesn’t appear to quite be the case, as CBS has decided to drop Imus from his radio show, so, for the moment, old Don is out of a job. [Here’s a link for the story, but really, you can find it just about anywhere]
Don Imus might be racist, sexist, whatever else. I don’t really know. His comment indicated that, at the least, he’s comfortable enough with appearing racist or sexist for the sake of his form of “humor”, which is not particularly funny, but more, more to point, simply shocking. He says enough raunchy crap that, eventually, your sense dull to the point where you think of his show as “entertainment”. I’m not sad he’s off the air.
That said, Don Imus wasn’t fired for being racist or sexist.
Don Imus was fired from CBS and MSNBC because his sponsors were pulling out. His sponsors weren’t pulling out because he’s racist or sexist. They’re pulling out because of backlash. I don’t listen to Imus, or at least, didn’t listen to him when he’s on the air, but every article and word of print I can find on the guy indicates that his words last week are no different than his words every other week for the past couple of decades. Sponsors have had lots of opportunities and tons of reasons to stop backing his shows. They are not pulling out because, this time, he crossed the line. They’re pulling out because, after crossing the line for the millionth time, people are reacting.
Personally, I’m inclined that, given the content of what’s already out there, a lot of people are overreacting. This point has been beaten home by others, but we’ll repeat it here: Is what Imus said any worse that what shows up rap radio stations or in racially charged TV shows, such as The Chappelle Show? Even the picture at the top of this post is obviously using racism as a vehicle. I’m not saying that, because so many others do it, Imus’ words are justifiable, and that his firing is unjust. My point is, that his firing is only because of the backlash, and has nothing to do with CBS, MSNBC, or their sponsors wanting to rid the air of the menace that is racism.
Sure, it’s possible this is a wake-up call. Maybe CBS, MSNBC, their affiliates and competitors will all sit back and say, “You know, this really is unacceptable. We have a responsibility as broadcasters to produce quality product. We need to rid ourselves of every racist, offensive thing we have, and make sure to set a standard for media of what is and is not acceptable.” Perhaps the sponsors will do the same–only choosing to pay for “wholesome” shows.
It’s not likely, of course. The networks are shooting for damage control, not societal reform. And, honestly, I’m not certain how good it would be to rid the airwaves of anything that is remotely offensive. If part of artistic achievement involves “pushing boundaries”, I don’t know what it would mean to suddenly make those boundaries unyielding. I don’t want all my music “white-bread” and generic. I don’t want my paintings without the work I cannot understand, without the grotesque pieces that appall or disgust me. I don’t need my TV or movies to all be exclusively rendered in “good taste”.
But how are we supposed to set a standard? We can’t have 300 million Potter Stewarts laying out rules for acceptability. I have one proposal, and it’s a lousy one, but maybe it could be the starting point for a reasonable discussion about this kind of thing. There’s an addage, I don’t know who said it first or how long it’s been around, that states, “You have to know the rules before you can break them.” James Joyce had to write Dubliners before he could write Finnegans Wake; Don Van Vliet had to record Safe as Milk before Trout Mask Replica; Pablo Picasso had to paint Gertrude Stein before he could paint Guernica. Let an artist show that he is capable of form, before he’s capable of formlessness. Don Imus has, to my knowledge, never displayed an ability to articulate genuine, rational, provocative thought. He’s merely a shock-trooper. He comes on the air, carelessly tosses a few slurs across the waves, and collects his paycheck. He’s out.
Sure, it’s still a pretty subjective method, but, I hope, it’s a start.